Madison Country Club
revived as public facility
has been transformed
many times over the years
Madison, Ind. (July 2003) In January, a cornerstone
of Madison society for nearly a century, the Madison Country Club, closed
its doors. Once a premier gathering spot for the towns coterie,
the club had ultimately outlived its heyday.
The club was failing financially; we just didnt have enough
members, said Madison Chemical CEO and former club member Dick
by Don Ward
Country Clubhouse today.
Unwilling to let the facility fall into obscurity, about
30 former club members, including Goodman, formed Crooked Creek, LLC,
which purchased the property in April. The idea behind the action, according
to Goodman, was to preserve the historical use of the property for dining
and golf, but not as a private club. Rather, both the golf course and
club house have been leased to separate outside operators to be opened
for public use. So to remain a viable enterprise, the property is undergoing
yet another transition.
Although best known to most local residents as the Madison Country Club,
the clubhouse and surrounding grounds has had a storied past over the
years much of which may be unknown to todays area residents.
The site has served many different purposes before becoming a social
retreat. Existing at various times as privately owned property, fairgrounds,
a Civil War hospital, horse race track and Chautauqua festival location,
the propertys rich history is worth a closer look:
Hunter House, 1842: According to old newspaper clippings and deed records,
the clubhouse was built around 1842 as the private family home of John
W. and America Hunter. It is believed the house was built about
1842 and was occupied first by J.W. Hunter, and later by Cortice W.
Hunter. At least the building was known as the Hunter house in 1865...
reads a Madison Courier article dated Jan. 1, 1959.
courtesy of the Jefferson Co. Historical Society Museum
War hospital wards
State Fairgrounds, 1854: Plat maps reveal that adjacent
to the Hunter property was land owned by Jesse Whitehead. According
to archives of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Whitehead donated
his land for use as a fairgrounds, and in 1854 the Indiana State Fair
was held there. At that time, it was not unusual for the state fair
to be held in a different location each year.
Madison General Hospital, 1863-1865: In the spring of 1863, the Madison
General Hospital, one of the largest Civil War hospitals of its day,
was built on the bulk of the former Hunter and Whitehead properties.
According to a historical report of the hospital, compiled by Phillip
L. Hall, the hospital was built at the request of Gen. William McKee
Dunn, a member of U.S. Congress and a Jefferson County, Ind., native.
It was to be built on the sight of the Old Indiana State Fair
grounds approximately one mile west of downtown Madison, Hall
said in his report.
The site was a total of 37 acres, which now encompasses the Madison
Country Club and its golf course, Hall continued. The Hunter House
became the commandants residence, according to Hall, and more
than 60 buildings were constructed as hospital wards.
courtesy of the Jefferson Co. Historical Society Museum
Grove Horse Park
The hospital, which cared for wounded Union soldiers from
Civil War battles, was one of the largest Union hospitals of its time,
second in size only to the permanent major army hospital in Philadelphia,
according to Hall.
In September 1865, the hospital was closed. It has been speculated by
some local residents that the wards of the hospital were sold and moved,
becoming row houses along West Main St. But according to Jefferson County
Historical Society archivist Ron Grimes, the size of the houses and
the pitch of their roofs make such a scenario unlikely.
Grimes has recently compiled a number of records of the hospital, now
on display in the historical societys museum of history as part
of a Civil War exhibit.
Beech Grove Trotting Association, 1875-1900: In his book, The
Early Architecture of Madison, the late John Windle wrote about
the formation of the Beech Grove Trotting Association in 1875. Its
stockholders purchased the Whitehead and Hunter properties encompassing
the grove and the Hunter mansion, Windle wrote.
Prior to the associations purchase of the property, in the 1870s
it was known as Beech Grove Park because of an impressive stand of beech
trees located on the Whitehead property. According to Windle, A
half-mile race track was erected, along with stables and a baseball
diamond in the tracks infield. Photos dating back to the
time period reveal the location of the track and its use for horse racing.
Old photos show the track location along the Ohio River, and an oval-shaped
impression where the track was once located is still visible on the
fairways of the golf course.
by Ruth Wright
In his book, Windle also maintained that the association
talked the county fair board into moving its annual agricultural fair
from North Madison to the new park.
Chautauqua, 1901-1929: In 1901, the first Chautauqua, part religious
revival, part social festival, was held in Beech Grove Park. In
1900, it was proposed to convert a former fairgrounds and race track
in Madison into a summer-long Chautauqua and pleasure resort,
according to Chautauqua in Indiana, by Frank Miles.
The first event, held in July 1901, was less than successful. But a
revival of the event in 1903 met with more enthusiasm. People came from
the surrounding area and pitched tents to enjoy a variety of entertainment,
including speeches, lectures, music and plays.
From this grew one of Indianas most successful independent
chautauquas. It continued until 1929, Miles wrote.
Todays Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art, held each year in September
in downtown Madison, is nothing like its original predecessor.
Country Club, 1913-2003: In October 1913, a group of 11 Madison men
formed a corporation with the purpose of establishing a house
and grounds for social meetings, and for athletic exercises, according
to a certificate of incorporation on record at the Jefferson County
courthouse. The men adopted the name Madison Country Club.
Lillian McCoskey, 83, probably knows more about the country clubs
early years than anyone. When she was four years old, her parents, Stewart
and Phillipine Douglass, were hired to manage the club. The family lived
in rooms on the second floor of the clubhouse, which McCoskey recalled
being very cold in the winter because they were not heated.
Despite having chilly bedrooms in the winter, McCoskey has many fond
memories of growing up at the country club, during a time when gentlemen
tipped their hats to ladies and called them miss.
For nearly 18 years, she called the clubhouse her home. I learned
to play golf when I was real young, said McCoskey, who, along
with her brothers, Forrest and Robert, also used the greens as their
play yard when they werent in use by club members.
courtesy of the Jefferson
Co. Historical Society Museum
In the summer and on holidays, McCoskeys parents
would let out rooms to travelers for $21 a week, which included three
square meals a day. Her mother developed an excellent reputation for
her cooking and was well known throughout the area. Sometimes the demand
for rooms was such that the family would let our their own private rooms,
but just to regular patrons, McCoskey said.
The country club played host to a variety of travelers from as far away
as Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington and Indianapolis, including Mr.
and Mrs. Eli Lilly, who McCoskey remembered once stayed at the club.
McCoskeys close association with the club didnt end when
she became an adult. Although her parents no longer worked there, McCoskey
joined the club in 1936 and remained a member until the club closed
this year. It always kind of seemed like my home, she said.
Montpelier Inn Restaurant; River Chase Golf Course, 2003: After Crooked
Creek, LLC purchased the country club this year, the group of owners
decided to sublet the property. The driving force was that we
wanted to perpetuate the idea of a golf facility and a restaurant,
said Goodman. That goal was realized with the lease of the clubhouse
to Robin Henderson and the golf course to Mike Guthrie, adding yet another
chapter to the country clubs history.
In June, Henderson opened Montpelier Inn, a restaurant in the clubhouse.
An Indianapolis native, Henderson moved to Madison from Virginia a little
more than a year ago. He and his wife, Margo, also own the Baskin-Robbins
ice cream shop on Main Street.
Henderson hired former country club chef Adi Kienle to manage the kitchen.
The restaurant offers a fine dining experience at a reasonable price,
Mike Guthrie Development Corp. leased the former country clubs
nine-hole golf course and renamed it River Chase. Guthrie also owns
Westwood Golf Course in Scottsburg, Ind. Guthrie offers joint membership
to both golf clubs. River Chase is also open to the public for daily
play. It is managed by Johnny Gullion, who also manages Westwood.
Goodman and his LLC partners say they are satisfied with the results
of their effort so far. Were very hopeful. Both the operators
seem very committed to making it work, he said.
To view a historical display on the Madison Country Club,
visit the Jefferson County Historical Society, 615 W. First St., in
Madison. For admission information and hours, call (812) 265-2335.
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